The Importance of Fibre in Your Child’s Diet
Did you know that only about 8.5% of Australian children eat the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables? Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fibre, so it stands to reason that the majority of Australian children may not be getting adequate fibre intake.
But why is fibre so important? How can you get your child to eat more of it? Let’s talk about it.
Read on to learn all about the importance of fibre in your child’s diet, as well as how you can make simple changes to increase your child’s fibre intake.
What Is Fibre?
Fibre is the part of (plant-based) food that human digestive enzymes can’t break down. In other words, it’s technically indigestible (but that’s a good thing). Dietary fibre is largely found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. Some people refer to fibre as “roughage.”
When you eat most food components, like fats or proteins, your body breaks them down through the digestive process so you can absorb them. Fibre passes through your digestive system as-is. Fibre can be either soluble (meaning that it dissolves in water) or insoluble (meaning that it doesn’t dissolve). Both soluble and insoluble fibre are good for digestion and they serve slightly different purposes.
You can find soluble fibre in legumes, oats, apples, citrus fruits, and several other sources. It soaks up water and turns into a gel-like material that makes it easier to pass food through the digestive system to prevent and ease constipation. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
Insoluble fibre does not absorb water at all. Instead, it adds bulk to the materials being digested and helps them move through the digestive system more quickly. If a child’s digestive system seems slow, it’s likely due to a lack of insoluble fibre!
Bran, nuts, seeds, wholegrain foods, and the skin of fruits and vegetables are some common sources of insoluble fibre. Many people think insoluble fibre will cause stomach-aches, but this isn’t the case. While fibre in excess can cause problems, it’s necessary!
Benefits of Fibre
Fibre is essential for people of all ages. While children need less fibre than adults, a high-fibre diet is still good for them as long as they’re already eating solid foods. But why is fibre so important? Here are a few benefits of high-fibre diets for children.
Good for Bowel Health and Movements
Does your child ever deal with constipation or other bowel-related complaints? This can be a real problem for parents and children alike, especially when the children are toddlers and still in nappies.
As we mentioned earlier, both soluble and insoluble fibre help with regular bowel movements. Children that struggle with constipation could definitely use a fibre boost! Fibre will soften hard stools and firm up loose stools. The only exception to this is if a child is suffering from diarrhoea (in which case you should seek advice from a medical professional).
Long-term, a high-fibre diet can lower the chances of someone developing bowel disease in the future, as well as lower the chances of developing haemorrhoids. While these aren’t problems your child is likely to have any time soon, it’s good to set them up for good health from a young age.
Can Help Control Blood Sugar
There’s a reason that eating fruit is better than eating sweets. While they both contain sugar, fruit also contains nutrients and fibre! Fibre can actually help control blood sugar. This is extra important for diabetic children, but it can also help lower the chances of non-diabetic children developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
There’s evidence to suggest that a high-fibre diet can increase a person’s lifespan (with an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle, of course). Your child is young now, but you want them to live a long, full, and healthy life. Encouraging a high-fibre diet is a great way to help them with that. It may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Helps Kids Feel Satiated
Is your little one always hungry? Toddlers can eat a lot for their small frames! Increasing their fibre intake can help them stay full without reaching for a bunch of sugary snacks. Fibre is satisfying and helps people feel full for longer. This makes it excellent for weight maintenance. About 25% of Australian children are overweight or obese, and while children can still gain unhealthy weight with a high-fibre diet, it’s less likely because they won’t feel the need to overeat.
Consequences of a Low-Fibre Diet
With all of those benefits in mind, it’s important to talk about the potential consequences of a low-fibre diet in childhood (or at any age, for that matter). A low-fibre diet can result in constipation and potentially even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition is uncomfortable and makes it difficult to eat many normal foods without intestinal distress.
A low-fibre diet, long-term, can lead to obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and even cardiovascular disease. Of course, the lack of fibre alone doesn’t cause these problems, but it is a contributing factor that’s easy to fix.
What’s the Ideal Fibre Intake for a Child?
Let’s talk about how much fibre your child should be consuming. For the first year of your child’s life, fibre isn’t necessary. The child is likely still drinking their meals and getting adequate nutrition that way. Children and toddlers, however, need fibre.
An easy rule of thumb is to take your child’s age and add 10 to it. So a 5-year-old child would want an average of 15g of fibre per day. Some experts suggest that children between the ages of 1 and 3 should get about 14g per day, and children between 4 and 8 should get 18g per day.
These are estimates, of course. A bit over or a bit under is fine, as long as you are encouraging your child to eat fibre.
How to Encourage Children to Eat More Fibre
This is all well and good, but you may be thinking “how can I encourage my child to eat more fibre?” Introducing high-fibre foods to your child’s diet may seem overwhelming, especially if you have a picky eater. Don’t worry, there are several ways you can make getting more fibre into your child’s diet easy.
Change Their Cereal
If your child loves cereal, it’s time to switch to a higher-fibre alternative. If your child is struggling with the change, you can add a small amount of honey to the cereal while they adjust.
Switch to Whole Grains
Whole-grain bread and pasta are often just as tasty as the “normal” bread and pasta you’re already buying, and many small children won’t notice the difference unless they’re eating their bread or pasta plain. Make your child’s favourite sandwiches and pasta dishes with an extra boost of added fibre.
Give Fruits and Veggies as Snacks
Instead of giving your child crackers or chips for a snack, give them fruits and veggies. Preferably you start doing this from toddlerhood so they never have to adjust to making the switch to a healthier alternative. Make snacking easy by cutting fruits and veggies into bite-sized pieces. You can pair them with peanut butter or yoghurt for more nutrition and fun.
Smoothies are perfect for getting picky eaters to eat more fruits and veggies!
Anything can go in a smoothie, but we recommend blending milk, Greek yoghurt, and frozen fruits (bananas for creaminess and berries for flavour). You can even add a bit of spinach. Add vanilla or cocoa powder, or consider giving it a nutritional boost with our Good Smoothie.
A smoothie is full of healthy fibre and protein, making it an awesome midday snack.
Blend Veggies and Legumes Into Soups and Sauces
Hiding veggies in your child’s food is a great way to get them to eat more fibre, but how do you do it? It doesn’t have to be hard. Steamed vegetables and beans blend easily (with a bit of added water) and they’re great for adding into soups, stews, and sauces. Add some blended carrots and capsicum to pasta sauce, or some white beans to alfredo sauce. Get creative! You’d be surprised at how many servings of veggies will go unnoticed with the help of a trusty blender.
Fibre Is Essential for Healthy Children
Figuring out the right nutrition for kids isn’t always easy and getting them to eat the right foods can be even harder! Make sure your child is getting enough fibre intake in their diet for easy digestion, weight control and longevity.
At Nutura, we understand how complicated children’s nutrition can seem to new parents. We believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and we want to be part of your village. Our nutritious products are perfect for keeping your child healthy during the first few formative years of their life. Find a nearby Nutura retailer or buy our products online today.